Equality in Television

Ever tried to run through a mine field while you're being chased by a tidal wave of lions and tigers and bears... and also your hair is on fire? Well, for me, that's what writing this piece has been like. I'd like to get to the other side unscathed, but in all likelihood I'm going to get pretty fucked up.

There's been a trend in television shows of late that are targeted directly at women and lauded as the pinnacles of equality and shining examples of what all shows should be like. The problem is, beyond the fact that I've actually sat down and watched a few of them, that they're nothing of the sort. They're just as sexist and reductive as every other television show in history, just in the opposite direction.

For the purposes of this piece, I'll be discussing two shows and a movie in particular - Orange is the New Black, Wynonna Earp and Wonder Woman. Before you pop a gasket and start pissing liquid outrage, I've seen 4 Seasons of OitNB and the first season of WE and obviously I've seen Wonder Woman. I know there's more seasons of the shows out there of either but I live in Australia, where dvd's take ages to be released and all the good pirating channels have been blocked. So, it'll have to do!

My problem with these shows is that they're always regarded as morally superior to shows that have traditionally had male leads, or a focus on male dominated life. But if you actually sit down and watch them, you'll find them pretty uncomfortable if you're a guy because you're constantly seeing individuals that you identify with being vilified or sidelined. It wouldn't be such an issue if they weren't touted as being more inclusive and simply better... because they're not. It's the exact same shit, just targeted at a different audience. 

I might as well get this out of the way early so I can get a healthy streak of negativity going on afterwards. Seeing these shows has actually inspired me to become a better writer. I can't imagine what it must have been like for women over the past half century as they watched television, seeing their entire gender relegated to the background and given absurd roles that only exist to pump up the male lead's story lines. Seeing this new generation of television however, I get an idea of how uncomfortable it must have been, because now it's happening to men as well. The problem is, doing a complete 180 turn doesn't solve the problem, it's just the same shit with a new direction. I'm all for a series that's about equality, but actual equality, not social justice revenge where women finally get their own back after being oppressed for so long. 

So, I guess, some good has actually come from these shows. For me, at least. They make me uncomfortable and I'd hate to see all of media go in this direction, so I'm definitely going to do my part to be a better storyteller. Again, not because I'm a bleeding heart Lefty but because I want complex and interesting stories - and a fully fleshed out cast of men *and* women, is the best way to achieve that.

Okay, onto the negativity! 

Orange is the New Black always bugged me, it's a show that's clearly about women. We've had plenty of shows that have primarily female casts before, that's never been an issue, I watched Charmed and Buffy back in the day and loved them both. (Totally crushed on Holly Marie Combs btw...) But OitNB is a show that casts females specifically as protagonists, and as a natural result of this men must take the role of antagonists. 

 All women is fine, but it's as far from equality as you can get...

All women is fine, but it's as far from equality as you can get...

Every male in the show is some sort of villain that exists solely to act as an opponent or hindrance to the female characters. George "Pornstache" Mendez is the vile and corrupt prison guard who abuses his authority and takes advantage of the female inmates. John Bennett is a guard who is portrayed as a coward, for leaping from a grenade while on tour, to having an injury that isn't as heroic as it could be, and finally from running from his responsibilities as a father. Joel Luschek is the drug using, alcoholic loser who runs the prison mechanical shop. Sam Healy was the prison social worker who was blatantly sexist, racist and homophobic and ends up having a mental breakdown due to an unbelievably shitty childhood. Joe Caputo is the quintessential "nice guy" who gets treated like shit because it's his own fault. Scott O'Neil is a big, fat dumbass. Cal Chapman is the primary protagonist's deadbeat hippie brother. Charlie "Donut" Coates rapes a prisoner because he has a weird demented crush on her. Desi Piscatella is a sociopathic torturer who is gay, but not because that makes him a more well rounded character but because that makes him immune to the feminine wiles of the female inmates and thus a more difficult opponent for them to overcome. 

 "I like cock as well... you have no power here!"

"I like cock as well... you have no power here!"

All these male characters are fucking horrific, I would hate to be a little boy watching this show and seeing that this is what men have to be like. I'd hate to have a son who watched this show with his mother, only for his mother to state that this is what men are really like. I didn't even list off all the random background prison guards who are sadistic ex-servicemen, there's just too many of them! Do people not know how hard it is to be a prison guard in real life? Do they think it's just for college drop-outs and undercover psychopaths? 

There is one sympathetic male character who you could possibly side with, but then he randomly kills an inmate because the actor who portrays her got a job offer on *another* show about how bad females have it. (Samira Wiley jumped ship to go board The Handmaid's Tale, I'll get into that mess in another piece.) There's not one single male character in this show that you can side with, they all exist simply to be opponents to the female characters. 

The question I have about this is, when has there ever been a TV show where females have been cast in direct opposition to the male protagonists? I will freely admit that female representation and the roles that women can play in television hasn't been great, not even good, but they've never been systematically cast as the villains because of the simple fact that they're women.

I get that we need to be better in the content that we create, but OitNB isn't a show about equality or equal representation. It's a show that's even more sexist than almost any other show that I can think of, to the extreme, and the worst part is that it's posing as a progressive narrative.

Wynonna Earp is basically a shit version of Supernatural combined with Charmed, it's a Weird Western story about the great great granddaughter of famous American lawman - Wyatt Earp. I have less of a problem with this series because it's not about women vs men, instead it's just a show about women, targeted towards women, and tends be executed pretty poorly. 

 We get it... you've got a really phallic firearm.

We get it... you've got a really phallic firearm.

Wynonna is shown to be an alcoholic run away with a history of mental illness, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity and criminal activity. She returns home to find she's got a destined role to play in saving the day from some really lame demons. Along the way she gets tangled up with the immortal Doc Holliday, who was stupidly stuck down a well for the past century, and the stone faced Deputy Marshal Xavier Dolls - and of course, a love triangle evolves. Also, Wynonna has a younger sister who ends a relationship with a deadbeat guy and starts up a bisexual relationship with a female deputy called Officer Haught (literally pronounced "hot.")

The series is full of quirky little bits of sexual innuendo and all the primary male cast members are fully supportive of their female leads. Despite the fact that one of them is immortal, and the other is an ex-military monster of some sort, both supportive male leads are only ever fully effective when the women aren't around. The second Wynonna is on scene, these guys who are meant to be the best of the best suddenly turn into whimpering and ineffectual losers. Which, I get on a creative level because you can't have side characters out-shining your protagonist. It's just that this is a problem when they're ultimate badasses while along, but they become useless the second there's a vagina around.

I'm not the only one who sees that this makes no sense, right? Do they both have some sort of weakness to estrogen or something? Tone down both extremes and it stops being an issue, make them less badass on their own and less pathetic when they're around the female lead.

There's also this really odd scene where a guy has been killed by some sort of succubus duo, and he's been torn apart and is hanging from the rafters of a shed in his boxers. The only thing Wynonna says is "Should have kept your pants on..." and just walks past his corpse. Like, that's an innocent dude who's been killed by demons, and your only reaction is to make a joke about his death? Pretty sure that's a quintessential example of Victim Blaming right there. Can you imagine the uproar there would be if there was a show with a male cop who found a dead female on the side of the road in her underwear, and the only thing the cop said was "should have kept your pants on..."

And the worst part about Wynonna Earp is that the whole series makes this really overt attempt to justify and validate Wynonna's sexual history. She ends up shagging Doc Holliday, the century old immortal bad boy, before making out with Deputy Marshal Dolls right at the end. It's this absurd female fantasy of getting to fuck the bad boy and then settling down with the reliable guy who is totally accepting of your laundry list of sexual partners, one of which is a close associate of theirs. It's absolute absurdity, the world doesn't work like that. But of course, because it's targeted at women, it's got this ridiculously romanticized "have your cake and eat it too" message to it.

 They both take her to a ball... wish fulfillment much?

They both take her to a ball... wish fulfillment much?

It's exactly the same as the doubebag guy who shags the town bicycle for a while before ditching her to settle down with the homely girl next door.... just in reverse. That's not equality, that's just equally unequal! 

Straight laced, by the books, ex-military types like Deputy Marshal Dolls don't fall for ex-drug addicted, alcoholic "party girls" like Wynonna Earp. It's sending this insanely damaging message to young women that they can fuck around as hard and as fast as they want, and then Mr. Right will totally be waiting for them when they're done. Now, note, this isn't me saying that women shouldn't be allowed to fuck around, because I'm not saying that at all. You wanna get dicked till your heart's content, by all means - go for it, because this is not about slut-shaming or anything like that. What I'm saying is that it's absurd to think that you can do all that and then also expect a knight in shining armor to be waiting for you at the finish line.

Women don't like guys who sleep around, guys don't like girls who sleep around either. We need to put this shit to bed, because no matter how movies and TV shows try to convey it as true, it doesn't work like in that in real life in either direction. 

There are other shows that have been reported to be in similar vein as this, Marvel's Jessica Jones comes to mind, but I've never actually watched that. I haven't actually watched any of the Marvel TV series, primarily because I'm fucking sick of super hero content but also because they often turn out to be pretty shitty. When I heard that Jessica Jones was all about Jessica being this strong and independent woman who talks shit and gets to stare at a shirtless Luke Cage for most of the series, I pretty much deleted all mention of it from my brain. 

I did go out and buy a copy of Wonder Woman though, because I heard nothing but rave reviews about it. I was expecting something great, but it was in the similar vein to OitNB and Wynonna Earp. Albeit, to a far lesser extent. I loved the action, the story line was pretty damn good, but the film was clearly targeted at women. There were little quips here and there that constantly reminded me that I'm a dude and that I'm not entirely welcome here. I will state that the male cast members were much more well rounded in Wonder Woman than those other series, they were consistent and well thought out. And there was a pretty awesome female villain as well, so it wasn't a blatant 'man vs female' set up. 

 Every character had a great backstory and decent characterization, there were only a few minor issues here.

Every character had a great backstory and decent characterization, there were only a few minor issues here.

Now, this is where I've got to make the ridiculous announcement that shouldn't be, but totally is, necessary. I don't hate women, I don't have a problem with women having their own shows and I don't want to go back to the good old days of women being relegated to the kitchen. I just want better shows, shows that espouse *real* equality, not just shows that're about man-bashing because it's the in-vogue thing to do right now. I want shows that have complex male and female characters, not shows with one or the other. 

As much as I hate sucking on the Whedon dick, Buffy and Firefly were both great examples of this. Men and women on equal footing, working together and getting shit done. Firefly had a strong warrior woman and her more peace loving husband, totally loved that. The original Aliens series was fucking fantastic, that had a female lead and they didn't need to wax on all poetic-like or make rapid-fire quips about how superior women were to men, it just had a female lead and got on with it. Dark Matter was a little sci-fi series that got three seasons out before it was cancelled. Great cast, men and women, badasses all. 

 The ladies in blue and black could each kill everyone else single handed, nobody ever made a big deal about it.

The ladies in blue and black could each kill everyone else single handed, nobody ever made a big deal about it.

I loved that Tauriel was added to The Hobbit, she was an absolute fucking badass. Also, seeing Galadriel bust out into Witch-Queen mode was awesome, Gandalf was getting his arse handed to him until she showed up. Two damn powerful female characters, zero issues. Hell, I would have been happy with more!

 Tauriel was an absolute badass who gave Legolas a run for his money!

Tauriel was an absolute badass who gave Legolas a run for his money!

We need better stories, because the stories we've got now are lame, with blatantly obvious political leanings that cater directly to the current populist trend. Supporting minorities is the cool new thing, so lets all support and raise them up by BUILDING A PILE OF STRAIGHT WHITE MALE CORPSES FOR THEM TO STAND UPO-

No.  

Casting men as the villains tells young men that they can only be villains, and teaches young women to fear men. Showing women doing whatever they want and then getting Mr.Right is telling young women that they can do what they want without consequences, which just isn't how the world works. We need better shows with better messages, otherwise we're going to end up with a generation of kids with a really fucked up view of how the world works and how they fit into it. We know that depictions of television can have negative impacts on peoples self-perceptions, especially young people. 

I don't want shows that cater to men's warped view of reality just as much as I don't want shows that cater to women's warped view of reality. I want realistic shows, with nuanced and diverse characters in multi-layered narratives, that everyone can enjoy. I don't want us all to drift off into our own little TV worlds that drag us down different rabbit holes to the point where nobody recognizes a single reality anymore. We can still have shows and films that are for men or women, respectively, but we don't need to throw the other under the bus to make them work. 

Seriously, at this point, Resident fucking Evil has been a better series in terms of equality... and that series is absolute garbage! But it's got a whole host of strong female characters, including the lead, and none of them talk shit about men at any point. This trash zombie series is more inclusive than most modern television shows. Bravo, people...

 How is it that *this* is the better option?!

How is it that *this* is the better option?!